from the city of the dead in Cairo
- from the City of the Dead in Cairo, part 3/3

Coming out of the narrow alley after the gate of Sultan Qait Bay, we are back in a bit larger street. Further east runs the Nasr autostrada filled with cars in both direction - and before this a rusty portal.

The gate is open and we pass two red old cars, which we hardly notice as it further in is a beautifully designed cupola above the trees and palms.

A rusty portal, and behind an unknown gem in Cairo.   A rusty portal, and behind an unknown gem in Cairo

Until just a few months ago this place was closed to the public, but lucky us - now it's open. Well, who would know? No tourist flocks, or even individual travellers around - still its one of the most important pearls of Cairo that's located in this garden of past glory.

This is the funeral complex of Khedive Tawfik and his family, and let us explain who this is before we enter the monument.

Tawfik's father, Khedive Ismail - the extravagant reformer, was the person who stood behind the building of the Suez Channel. With this followed the grand opening of the Suez channel which again was described by the author Henrik Ibsen in following words:

9th of October 1869 - The Suez Canal, the new trade gate should be inaugurated. Khedive Ismail, Vice-King of Egypt, had invited guests from all European countries. I was among them and can verify a hospitality with riches from fairy tales.

"Riches from fairy tales" for sure! Some years later it's recorded that Khedive Ismail had a debt to European creditors of £ 80 million. To quote from Alan Moorehead's classical book ""he White Nile":

Baring and his colleagues, with the backing of their European governments, had supervised the final sinking of the Khedive with diplomatic skill. The Sultan in Constantinople, who was still the nominal overlord of Egypt, was induced to send Ismail a telegram in which he addressed him as the 'ex-Khedive' and informed him that his eldest son Tewfik had succeeded to his place.

the Tawfik mausuleum in the city of the dead   The tomb complex for Khedive Tawfik and his family
The humiliation of Khedive Ismail by Europe and the Ottoman Sultan undermined the authority of his son Khedive Tawfik who ruled from 1879. During his time the first popular nationalist movement surfaced in Egypt via the Egyptian colonel Ahmed Urabi.

In 1881 a revolt against foreign control made Khedive Tawfik to appoint Urabi as Secretary of War. But the nationalists wanted more control, among others with the foreign debt. The Khedive's power started to fade in face of the popular nationalist movement.

Looking in the roof at Khedive Tawfiks tomb complex   Look up when you enter
During the summer of 1882 the national movement rose as a threat for England and France, afraid that Urabi would default the debt and threaten Britain's control of the important link to India through via the Suez channel. In the end British troops was sent to the Suez channel area and defeated the national movement - and Khedive Tawfik placed himself under British protection. He was succeded by his oldest son Khedive Abbas I

The British occupation would hold a firm grip on Egypt until the revolution in 1952 sent both British rule and the Egyptian kingdom out of the country.

Tomb of Bambah Qadin, mother of Abbas I Pasha   Tomb of Bambah Qadin, mother of Abbas I Pasha

The tomb was originally built as a mausoleum for the mother of Abbas I Pasha and was enlarged in 1881 for Khedive Tawfik and his family. Above the entrance, Mamluk stalactite decoration is found. Inside the door on each wall, parts of the gold woven cover of the holy Kabah in Mecca. The story goes that some tried to replace these with copies some years ago, and that's part of the reason the mausoleum was closed for a longer period.

Further inside is the white marble tomb of Bambah Qadin, and behind this the tomb of Khedive Tawfik. His tomb is made of ebony inlaid with noble woods, ivory and mother-of-pearl.

Tomb of Khedive Twafik and Bambah Qadin   Tomb of Khedive Twafik and Bambah Qadin

Behind these two tombs, three other tombs are found in the end of the room. In the middle is the tomb of Princess Aminah, the wife of Khedive Tawfik and on each side her two sons.

On the left side of Princess Aminah, the white marble tomb of her firstborn, Khedive Abbas II is found - and on the right the tomb of Prince Muhammed Ali. Muhammed Ali married the French actress Susanne Hernon. He was a great art collector and built the Manyal Palace at Rodha Island to house these treasures. On the northeast wall there are other tombs, and on the opposite wall the family library.

Scarecrow - or a very local guide?   Scarecrow - or a very local guide?
On the way out from this last tomb so filled with recent history, we met a ragged scarecrow standing there so humanly alone in the garden. We had just walked through hundreds of years with important history normally not presented visitors to Cairo.

Okay, nobody would dream about forgetting the pyramids and Egypt's pharaonic history; still it would be a great pity if this part of Egypt were not available to visitors. If you would like to follow in the footsteps of this article, do let us know and we will help you to arrange a walking tour in a Cairo that surpass dreams.

Talking about dreaming, I had the feeling when a friend stood there talking to the lone scarecrow, that this was not a normal scarecrow... Maybe it was a ragged guide that in moonlight changed into its royal costume and became a guide for those who rest here, those who this area was intended for? Please have a look for yourself when you get here?

Aakre Avatar

Arnvid Aakre is an indie-pendent artist, writer, and lecturer. World & web citizen. He do 'one-man' projects to larger projects (as his multi artists based "Hatshepsut Project", under UNESCO HQ in Paris, patronage). Now working on the art project LAFIAS. He lived 15 years in Egypt (Luxor and Cairo), but today the Nileviking family live in Bergen, Norway.